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What: The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres will play three games in the “MLB Mexico Series” this weekend in Monterrey.
Why it matters: Much like the Puerto Rico Series in April, the Mexico games represent an embracing of the Latino influence on baseball and a signal to marketers that the sport is thriving across Latin America.

Fans of a certain age will remember a time, more than 35 years ago, when “Fernandomania” ruled the land. Like a comet out of Navojoa, Mexico, Fernando Valenzuela burst onto the Major League Baseball (@MLB) scene in 1981, a thousand or so miles north but a million miles away in the sports world, to Los Angeles, where he promptly won a World Series, the hearts of Dodgers (@Dodgers) fans, and a place in baseball lore forever.

It was, for some, the first taste of baseball, South of the Border style. But for legions of Mexicans and others of Hispanic heritage living in Southern California, Fernandomania was the entry point to really feeling like this team, transplanted just over two decades earlier from Brooklyn, was really theirs.

Partners like Toyota, Telcel, Claro, Marriott, Purina and others are on board, with the league hoping to match the atmosphere, excitement and success they experienced in San Juan.

Things move slowly in the baseball world, but MLB finally came around to hosting games in Mexico some years later (1996). And this weekend, for the first time in nearly two decades (the Padres hosted the Rockies there in 1999 in the only other series there), the Padres and Dodgers will head south to Monterrey for a three-game set in what the league has dubbed the “MLB Mexico Series,” Friday through Sunday at Estadio de Beisbol. The weekend will include Fan Fest in Macroplaza, a series of youth and community initiatives, special kids ‘Play Ball’ event and Little League games, in an effort to involve everyone. And Valenzuela will throw out the first pitch in Friday’s game.

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Fernando Valenzuela (image: Wikimedia Commons/Jim Accordino)

This, like the Puerto Rico Series last month, is an opportunity to highlight the strong Latino connection to the game. Partners like Toyota, Telcel, Claro, Marriott, Purina and others are on board, with the league hoping to match the atmosphere, excitement and success they experienced in San Juan, when Puerto Rican stars José Berríos of the Twins and Francisco Lindor of the Indians stole the show, each leading his team to a win in the two-game series.

While a second series outside the contiguous U.S. states and Canada in one season may not signal the dawn of full-time baseball in either market, it’s a clear recognition by MLB that embracing its Latino player and fan bases is good for business.

It’s something Fernando and his outsized Dodger fandom could have told you more than a generation ago.

A summary of the most exciting news in multicultural sports marketing. If you’re trying to keep up, consider this your one-stop shop.

  • Streaming service fuboTV added SNY, the official television home of the New York Mets, Jets, and all things New York sports, to its channels, making it available to new and existing “Fubo Premier” subscribers at no additional cost.  With this, fuboTV has become the only OTT provider to offer all three NY regional sports networks in its base package.
  • Major League Baseball renewed alliances with HBO to create customized “Game of Thrones” events, giveaways, ticket specials and experiences to participating MLB ballparks this Summer. 31% of MLB players are Latino, according to ESPN.
  • Ricardo Zúñiga
    Ricardo Zúñiga, Deputy Coordinating Editor for ESPN’s global digital content team.

    Ricardo Zúñiga has become Deputy Coordinating Editor for ESPN’s global digital content team. He’ll be covering content in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America and other territories. He will also work closely with the ESPN Deportes team on editorial integration of the U.S. Hispanic content.

  • beIN Sports signed a TV deal with Major League Wrestling, starting April 20. According to a Washington Post poll, 38% of mixed martial arts fans are African-American, and 31% are Hispanics.
  • Peter Hutton, former Eurosport CEO, will become Facebook’s Director of Global Live Sports Partnerships and Programming, leading the live sports broadcast strategy. According to The Nativa, in 2016 there were 28.03 million US Hispanics on Facebook.

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  • Heineken had to remove a Heineken Light ad, after being accused of using a “terribly racist” tagline, by Chance the Rapper in a tweet, which quickly generated controversy. “Sometimes Lighter Is Better,” was the campaign’s slogan.
    Heineken USA issued a statement within hours: “For decades, Heineken has developed diverse marketing that shows there’s more that unites us than divides us. While we feel the ad is referencing our Heineken Light beer — we missed the mark, are taking the feedback to heart and will use this to influence future campaigns.”
  • Hankook USAHankook Tire and Major League Baseball entered into a new multi-year sponsorship that names Hankook Tire the Official Tire of MLB in the United States and Korea. The new partnership aims to showcase Hankook Tire across Baseball’s media assets including MLB Network, digital platforms such as MLB.com & social media, and MLB ballparks.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers have extended their partnership with San Manuel Casino for the eleventh consecutive season. In addition to joint hospitality and marketing opportunities, San Manuel and the Dodgers will collaborate with the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation.
  • The NFL and Nike extended their on-field rights partnership. Nike will continue to provide all 32 NFL Clubs with uniforms and sideline apparel bearing the Nike brand for use during all games. “Nike has been a long-time and trusted partner of NFL and we’re thrilled to extend our relationship with them,” said Brian Rolapp, Chief Media and Business Officer for the NFL.

Check out the stars of Portada’s Sports Marketing Board, who will meet at Portada Miami on April 18-19 to discuss various topics related to the future of marketing and innovation in sports. Register now!

What: The Yankees’ Gary Sanchez and Astros’ Carlos Correa head the list of Latino players with the biggest Twitter growth.
Why it matters: As the social media presence of Latino stars soars, the opportunities for brands to connect increases, with Correa’s Adidas deal a prime example.

As we near MLB Opening Day, the impact of Latino players who are active in social continues to grow, especially among the younger emerging stars who can drive brand value in both the Anglo and Spanish speaking communities. Who are the biggest and most impactful?

We asked social monitoring leader opendorse (@opendorseto give us the top five.

Opendorse analyzed historic Twitter data from the past year to find the five Latino MLB players with the most significant follower growth on the platform. By pairing success on the field with consistent, quality content, these players achieved massive growth of their social audiences and added value to their individual brands.

The list may not surprise you, but their impact will. Two Dodgers, Kenley Jansen (@kenleyjansen74and Enrique “KiKe” Hernandez (@kikehndezare near the top of the list, with the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez (@ElGarySanchezand Astros’ Carlos Correa (@TeamCJCorrea) making a huge impact. The Indians’ Jose Ramirez (@MrLapararounds out the top five of budding Latino stars using social to grow awareness as well.

Baseball is a game where Latino brands, and brands that are looking to reach a Latino audience that also speak English, should thrive.

One of the most important ties between all five? On-field success. The group all play for teams with big expectations in 2018 coming off impressive 2017 seasons as well, so tying social growth to impact in the community and wins and losses is key for brands to succeed. Their share of voice continues to be amplified as the team rises in the standings, although that is not the only factor companies need to consider when engaging with athletes in the social space. The market is also key for business success, with Ramirez being the only one of the five not playing in a traditionally strong Spanish-speaking market to start the 2018 season.

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Gary Sanchez
Gary Sánchez (Flickr/Arturo Pardavila)

Of the five, Correa’s deal with Adidas remains the gold standard for young players crossing over into the Latino space. Sanchez will benefit from being around the lineup of Bronx Bombers that include Giancarlo Stanton as well, while the pair of Dodgers should be able to continue to thrive as kings of Southern California.

“Baseball is a game where Latino brands, and brands that are looking to reach a Latino audience that also speak English, should thrive,” added longtime baseball executive Ray Negron, who has worked with some of the biggest crossover stars during his career in the Yankees front office. “It is still a bit of a mystery as to why more brands aren’t deeply involved as they could be crossing over between the Latino and Anglo audiences, but these five guys are great examples of how you can make that effective jump and reach a new audience using social media.”

For brands looking to score in baseball this season, these five Latino stars are a great start.

Check out the stars of Portada’s Sports Marketing Board, who will meet at Portada Miami on April 18-19 to discuss various topics related to the future of marketing and innovation in sports. Register now!

Cover Image: Carlos Correa (courtesy Adidas)

Baseball may be America’s favorite pastime, but Major League Baseball is full of Latin American flavor, as many of the leagues stars and biggest fans are Latino. We spoke to the L.A. Dodgers‘ Spanish-Language Media Sales Manager Jesse Nuñez to discuss their targeted marketing efforts, and how they incorporate the Dodgers into the way that Latinos identify with Los Angeles.

Let’s start with some context: more than a quarter of Major League Baseball players are Latino, something that probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to most baseball fans. But what many may not know is that reaching and engaging Latino audiences is now a priority for the MLB, as they make up almost half of some teams’ fanbases.

In 2015, the League hired two agencies, Anomaly and Latin Works, for a Hispanic-focused marketing effort that resulted in ‘Aqui,’ a campaign of 30 and 60-second spots running on ESPN. At the time, Jacqueline Parks, the chief marketing officer for Major League Baseball, commented: “Looking at 2015, we wanted to do more to reach out to Latino fans in places we haven’t been. We are buying media and forming media partnerships to engage Latinos more proactively.” viva

Teams like the Dodgers are essential to helping the League succeed in this effort: of 3.9 million fans in attendance at Dodgers games last year, 2.1 million were Latino. So it’s fair to say that the Dodgers have been tackling the task of building long-lasting relationships with Latino audiences for far longer than the League has.

“Looking at 2015, we wanted to do more to reach out to Latino fans in places we haven’t been. We are buying media and forming media partnerships to engage Latinos more proactively.”

The Dodgers seek a balance of targeted marketing campaigns, sponsorship deals and community outreach in their campaigns to build lasting relationships with their current and potential Latino fanbase. In terms of traditional outreach through sponsorships, Nuñez says that targeting Hispanics this way is a priority, but that “everyone in the corporate partnerships team is well-versed in the opportunity that exists with the Dodgers’ Latino fanbase.” But to the Dodgers, the surest way to Latinos’ hearts is through their communities.

Reaching Latinos through Strengthening their Communities

Nuñez speaks more about community outreach than traditional marketing methods when discussing their Latino targeting, and the effort that the organization makes is impressive.

“Dodgers have an extensive community outreach program from within the organization directly through the Community Affairs Department, as well as through its Dodgers Foundation.” According to Nuñez, both of those entities are “extensively” involved with the community at-large, which is significantly Latino.

“These initiatives have been a part of the Dodgers outreach many years before the Commissioner viewed youth outreach as a priority to reach Latinos,” says Nuñez.

The Dodgers Foundation, run by Nichol Whitman, has implemented an impressive array of community projects, including the Dodgers Dreamfields, through which over 37 of the 50 youth baseball fields have been completed with a $5 million investment. The Dodgers RBI Program (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) provides youth baseball and softball coaching, education, health resources, uniforms, equipment and grants for 4,000 kids in L.A.

The team also conducts much of its outreach through the Community Affairs department, led by Naomi Rodriguez, which organizes groups like the Kids 4 Dodgers Baseball, presented with Nike to serve low-income youth and their families who have a hard time paying to attend games. These families receive tickets, transportation to and from the stadium, “Dodger Dollars” and a t-shirt. This program helped over 20,000 kids last year alone.

“We want to emphasize all of the magical things that happen in and around the game. We’re trying to capture the idea that Latinos in the U.S. have an opportunity for greatness ‘aqui,’ here, with Major League Baseball.”

Nuñez comments: “The Department also runs and manages the Dodger Alumni and Current Player Programs through which Dodger Greats from past and present serve the community by speaking to youth groups, conducting clinics and visiting hospitals and other care facilities.”

Mi Casa Es Su Casa

The MLB and Dodgers’ focus on Latinos all boils down to making them feel welcomed and at home with baseball. “We want to emphasize all of the magical things that happen in and around the game. We’re trying to capture the idea that Latinos in the U.S. have an opportunity for greatness ‘aqui,’ here, with Major League Baseball,” LatinWorks President & Chief Creative Officer Sergio Alcocer said.

Nuñez highlights that Los Angeles’s Latino community is not only large, but mixed. Some have grown up in Los Angeles, some are more recent transplants. Some have grown up with baseball fever – either in or out of Los Angeles – and some haven’t. The Dodgers wants to embrace them all.

“We are beginning to capture the folks that perhaps didn’t have a strong baseball heritage in their country of origin as they become more acculturated as Latinos in the first, second and third generations,” says Nuñez.

“The affinity to the team is very much a part of the fabric of what it means to be a Latino in Los Angeles, and as families transition from immigrants to residents they become a part of that fabric, and as such, their interest in the Dodgers becomes more and more solidified.”